The Flowering Amazon: the drawings and paintings of Margaret Mee

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Ruth Stiff, Curator of International Exhibitions at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, discusses the life, work and legacy of British botanical artist Margaret Mee.

British artist Margaret Mee (1909-88) began to catalogue and illustrate Amazonian plants and flowers, particularly the orchids, bromeliads, and other epiphytes, in Brazil in 1956. As an intrepid explorer as well as an extraordinary artist, Mee was not content to simply illustrate these plants in a controlled environment. Instead, she preferred to study and paint them in their natural habitats.

Braving sickness, danger, and isolation, Mee made 15 expeditions by dugout canoe deep into the heart of the rain forest. Once there, she painstakingly searched for new or rare plants to paint and collect. Often working under very difficult conditions, Mee created scientifically accurate botanical documents of extraordinary beauty. As a result of her thoroughness and perseverance, Mee discovered several new species. These plants now bear her name in recognition of her research into Amazonian flora.

Ruth Stiff is the Curator of International Exhibitions at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (London), responsible for mounting and traveling exhibitions throughout North America and Europe and hosted by such venues as the Smithsonian Institution, Chicago’s Field Museum, and the New York Public Library, among others. She was the curator of The Flowering Amazon: Margaret Mee Paintings from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and author of the accompanying publication. She has served as guest curator with a number of North America’s major museums, and has lectured throughout North America and Europe. She is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London and holds a Master’s Degree in the Arts from Dartmouth College. A member of the Board of Trustees of the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art & Culture in Paris from 2007 to 2017, Ruth also served as the Center’s Curator of Exhibitions for a number of years, mounting such diverse exhibitions as: The Wyeths: Three Generations of American Art; Made in Chicago: Photographs from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection; and Buttons: Artistic, Historical and Cultural Phenomena from the Loïc Allio Collection.